By now, the whole country has heard about the Trayvon Martin shooting. As of this writing, the facts are still being sorted out and the accused shooter, George Zimmerman, has yet to be arrested. However, there has been much outrage and blame directed towards Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law. The real question remains...does this law even apply to the facts as we know them?
F.S. §776.013(3) - Florida's "Stand Your Ground" Law
"A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity, and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be has no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony".
As I am a criminal defense lawyer, I have been recently asked to explain Florida's so-called "Stand Your Ground" law. To explain how we got here, we first need to know where we have been. That takes us to Florida "BSYGL" or "Before Stand Your Ground Law...
Before the 2005 passing of Florida's "Stand Your Ground", a person could only use non-deadly force to defend against the imminent use of unlawful non-deadly force. The only time deadly force was authorized was to defend you or another against immediate deadly force/ great bodily harm. The use of deadly force was also allowed to stop the commission of a forcible felony.
A previous law, the so-called "Castle Doctrine" provided that a person had no duty to retreat prior to using deadly force against an intruder only if you were in one's home or workplace. You would still need a reasonable belief that deadly force was necessary to defend against great bodily harm, deadly force, or the commission of a forcible felony (such as a robbery or sexual assault). Unlike the later "Stand Your Ground" law, you had a "duty to retreat" prior to using deadly force.
Florida " ASYGL" or "After Stand Your Ground Law"
This "Stand Your Ground" Law introduced two (2) presumptions that would favor a criminal defendant who is making a self-defense claim:
1.The presumption that the defendant had a reasonable fear that deadly force was necessary; and
2.The presumption that the intruder intended to commit an unlawful act involving force or violence.
These two presumptions protect the defendant from both civil and criminal prosecution for any unlawful use of deadly or non-deadly force in self-defense. Additionally, the defendant/gun owner has no duty to retreat, regardless of where he is attacked, as long as he is in a location he is lawfully entitled to be when the danger occurs.
Florida's "Stand Your Ground" Law acts as a "presumption of innocence" from prosecution, as opposed to an affirmative defense that you would need to assert in Trial (after being arrested and charged by the State of Florida).
So the question remains...Is this "Stand Your Ground" law in any way responsible or encouraged the killing of Trayvon Martin? Part Two of this blog will talk about both the potential crimes that the shooter may be charged with as well as if this law applies...